When I think back on the 1980s, I am reminded of an extraordinary time of creativity, experimentation, and a focus on women’s rights. I had art classes that covered topics like performance art where we would see Laurie Anderson and then she would show up on campus and we would see her perform in person. We studied women artists like Judy Chicago, Louise Bourgeois, Frida Kahlo, and Georgia O’Keeffe. I focused on painting, jewelry making, and dabbled in sculpture and finally filmmaking. We had access to foreign films on campus and that is where I first saw Jane Campion’s films and she became a guiding light for me to find my voice. She is the only female filmmaker that consistently appears in Cannes along with all the other top male directors. She remains steadfast in keeping her vision in her filmmaking despite the criticism that she has received over the years. After first seeing her films SWEETIE (1989), AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE (1990) and THE PIANO (1993), I could relate to her ideas in storytelling that project a new voice in cinema, the female’s perspective. We are so used to films being told from the male perspective that we forget that half the population is women and that there are other ways to tell a story.
So, when Filmfest Hamburg chose the long overdue biographical film JANE CAMPION, THE CINEMA WOMAN by Julie Bertuccelli, I immediately bought a ticket. I had seen Campion at the Berlinale and wanted to hear her story which included her struggles and successes. Jane Campion tells of her love affair with this media but that it hasn’t always been easy for her. While filming she describes how she often hired cameramen who didn’t agree with her ideas or camera shots. In fact, they would put her down in front of her entire crew explaining the “real way,” how it is supposed to be done. The critics were equally harsh, but Campion never gave in to what others thought of her ideas or work.
Born to parents associated with the theater in Wellington, New Zealand, in 1954, she had access to an artistic platform. Already as a child, she was interested in scriptwriting and creating story games which included her friends as actors. Her energy and determination paved her way, which took a different track than that of her parents’ line of work. She studied first anthropology, then a second degree in art from Sydney College of the Arts at USYD (University of Sydney, Australia). She finally attended the Australian Film, Television, and Radio School that opened the door to her future. She explained that she had no idea what she was doing or even how to handle a camera but jumped right in to make multiple short films which nobody liked. But that didn’t deter her. She kept at it until a film felt right, which meant she had to learn about everything including music, editing, and camera angles. I truly enjoyed this documentary since we could see excerpts of her early films like TISSUES (1980), or her short film AN EXCERCISE IN DISCIPLINE: PEEL (1983) that won the Palme d’Or for best short film at the Cannes Film Festival in 1986. This film set her career into motion. She has received multiple awards during her career including her most recent film THE POWER OF THE DOG (2019), an adaption of Thomas Savage’s novel. She is the first woman to win Best Director without also winning a corresponding Best Picture at the Oscars. Jane Campion, a remarkable woman, has succeeded.